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in category Fiqh (Jurisprudence)

When should children start fasting?

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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in English.
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In a Nutshell:  Fasting is not obligatory upon a minor who has not reached puberty. Scholars agree parents should make their children fast so as to get them used to it. This is to train the children on fasting in order to make it easier for them after they reach puberty. But they differ in determining the age at which the child should start doing so.

Introduction

Parents should be keen on making their children practicing Muslims from their young ages and before reaching the age of the property. This is to prepare their children for religious duties in the future.

Evidences

1.       عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ :‏ رُفِعَ الْقَلَمُ عَنْ ثَلاَثٍ عَنِ النَّائِمِ حَتَّى يَسْتَيْقِظَ وَعَنِ الصَّغِيرِ حَتَّى يَكْبُرَ وَعَنِ الْمَجْنُونِ حَتَّى يَعْقِلَ أَوْ يَفِيقَ – أبو داود 40/53، والنسائي 27/44

It was narrated from Aishah the Prophet (saw) said: The pen has been lifted from three: From the sleeper until he wakes up, from the minor until he grows up, and from the insane until he comes back to his senses or recovers. (Abu Dawud 40:53; Nisa'i 27:4)
2.      عَنِ الرُّبَيِّعِ بِنْتِ مُعَوِّذٍ، قَالَتْ أَرْسَلَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم غَدَاةَ عَاشُورَاءَ إِلَى قُرَى الأَنْصَارِ ‏ "‏ مَنْ أَصْبَحَ مُفْطِرًا فَلْيُتِمَّ بَقِيَّةَ يَوْمِهِ، وَمَنْ أَصْبَحَ صَائِمًا فَلْيَصُمْ ‏"‏‏.‏ قَالَتْ فَكُنَّا نَصُومُهُ بَعْدُ، وَنُصَوِّمُ صِبْيَانَنَا، وَنَجْعَلُ لَهُمُ اللُّعْبَةَ مِنَ الْعِهْنِ، فَإِذَا بَكَى أَحَدُهُمْ عَلَى الطَّعَامِ أَعْطَيْنَاهُ ذَاكَ، حَتَّى يَكُونَ عِنْدَ الإِفْطَارِ – البخاري 30/67

Rubi bint Mu'awadh (ra) narrated: The Prophet (saw) sent a messenger to the village of the Ansar in the morning of the day of Ashura (10th of Muharram) to announce: "Whoever has eaten something should not eat but complete the fast, and whoever is observing the fast should complete it." She further said, "Since then we used to fast on that day regularly and also make our boys fast. We used to make toys of wool for the boys and if anyone of them cried for, he was given those toys till it was the time of the breaking of the fast." (Buhkari 30:67)
Also, the same hadith reported by Muslim, with slight differences:

3.      فَكُنَّا بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ نَصُومُهُ وَنُصَوِّمُ صِبْيَانَنَا الصِّغَارَ مِنْهُمْ إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ وَنَذْهَبُ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ فَنَجْعَلُ لَهُمُ اللُّعْبَةَ مِنَ الْعِهْنِ فَإِذَا بَكَى أَحَدُهُمْ عَلَى الطَّعَامِ أَعْطَيْنَاهَا إِيَّاهُ عِنْدَ الإِفْطَارِ – مسلم 13/175

The Companions said; We henceforth observed fast on it (on the day of Ashura) and, God willing, made our children observe that. We went to the mosque and made toys out of wool for them and when anyone felt hungry and wept for food we gave them these toys till it was the time to break the fast. (Muslim 13:175)

Juristic Views

Scholars unanimously agree maturity is a condition for the obligation of fasting of Ramadan. They based their position on the hadith number 1 in the above section. Also, many scholars such as ibn Hazm, ibn Rushd, Nawawi and ibn Muflih conveyed the ijma (consensus of Muslim scholar) on that. (Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhla, Vol. 6, p. 160; Ibn Rushd, Bidayat al-Mujtahid, Vol. 2, p. 46; Nawawi, Al-Majmu, Vol. 6, p. 253; Ibn Muflih, Al-Furu, Vol. 4. 428)

Nawawi stated:

لَا يَجِبُ صَوْمُ رَمَضانِ عَلَى الصَّبِيِّ وَلَا يَجِبُ عَلَيه قَضَاءٌ مَا فَاتَ قَبْلَ الْبُلُوغِ بَلَا خِلاَفُ – النووي في المجموع 6/253

Fasting of Ramadan is not obligatory upon the minor and he/she is not required to make up for those missed days of Ramadan before maturity.  (Nawawi, Al-Majmu, Vol. 6, p. 353)

Enjoining Fasting on Children

Majority of scholars, however, agreed it is obligatory upon the parents to enjoin fasting of Ramdan on their children when the child is able to do so. This is to train the children on fasting in order to make it easier for them after they reach puberty.

This is the position of the Hanafis, Shafi'is, Hanbalis and according to one position of the Maliks. This is also the opinion of a group of tab'een such as Ata, al-Hassan al-Basri, ibn Sirin, Zuhari and Qatadah. (Zayla'i, Tabieen al-Haqa'iq, Vol. 1, p. 339; Nawawi, Al-Majmu, Vol. 6, p. 253; Maradawi, Al-Insaf, Vol. 3, p. 199; Qarafi, Al-Zakhirah, Vol. 2, p. 533; Ibn Qudamah, Al-Mughni, Vol. 3, p. 45)

It is also reported in the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw) the Companions (raa) used to make their children fast Ramadan as reported in the hadiths number 2 and 3 in the evidence section.

Classical Scholars Opinions on the Age at Which the Child should Start Fasting

The age at which parents should start to teach their children to fast is the age at which they are able to fast, which varies according to each child's physical ability. However, some classical scholars have determined a certain age at which a child should start fasting. Some scholars said that parents should enjoin fasting on their children at the age of ten. This is the opinion of Khiraqi, ibn Qudamah and some Shafi'i scholars. (Ibn Qudamah, Al-Mughni, Vol. 3, p. 161)

The fourth-century Hanbabli scholar, Khriaqi, stated:

وَإِذَا كَانَ الْغُلاَمُ عُشُرُ سِنَّيْنٍ ، وَأَطَاقَ الصِّيَامُ أُخِذَ بِهِ – مصدر سابق 3/161

When a child is ten years old and is able to fast, he should start doing so. (Ibid, Vol. 3, p. 161)
Ibn Qudamah also argued that this is the preponderant opinion, he stated:

وَاعْتِبَارُهُ بِالْعَشْرِ أَوْلَى؛ لِأَنَّ النَّبِيَّ - صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ - أَمَرَ بِالضَّرْبِ عَلَى الصَّلَاةِ عِنْدَهَا، وَاعْتِبَارُ الصَّوْمِ بِالصَّلَاةِ أَحْسَن لِقُرْبِ إحْدَاهُمَا مِنْ الْأُخْرَى، وَاجْتِمَاعِهِمَا فِي أَنَّهُمَا عِبَادَتَانِ بَدَنِيَّتَانِ مِنْ أَرْكَانِ الْإِسْلَامِ، إلَّا أَنَّ الصَّوْمَ أُشَقُّ فَاعْتُبِرَتْ لَهُ الطَّاقَةُ، لِأَنَّهُ قَدْ يُطِيقُ الصَّلَاةَ مَنْ لَا يُطِيقُهُ – مصدر سابق 3/161

The age of ten is more likely, because the Prophet (saw) enjoined punishing children for not praying at this age, and regarding fasting as being like prayer is better, because they are close to one another, and because they are both physical worships that are pillars of Islam. But fasting is harder, so attention should be paid to it in respect of physical strength that is when the child becomes able for it, because the child may be able to pray but he may not yet be able to fast. (Ibid, Vol. 3, p. 161)
However, some other Shafi'i scholars determine it as being at the age of seven. Nawawi stated:

 قَالَ الْمُصَنِّفُ وَالْأَصْحَابُ : وَإِذَا أَطَاقَ الصَّوْمَ وَجَبً عَلَى الْوَلِيِّ أَنْ يَأْمُرَهُ بِهِ لِسَبْعِ سِنَّيْنٍ بِشَرْطٍ أَنْ يَكُونُ مُمَيِّزَا وَيَضْرِبُهُ عَلَى تَرْكِهِ لِعَشَرَ – النووي في المجموع 6/253

The author and the companions (scholars of the the Shafi'i madhab) stated: If the child is able to fast, it becomes obligatory upon the parents to command their child to fast at the age of seven, proving that such a child is a discriminating minor (mumayyiz). The parents should punish their child if he/she has not fasted. (Nawawi, Al-Majmu, Vol. 6, p. 253)
Some others, such as ibn Ishaq, determine it as being at the age of twelve, Ibn Ishaq stated:

وَقَالَ إِسْحَاقُ: إذَا بَلَغَ ثِنْتَيْ عَشَرَةَ أُحِبُّ أَنْ يُكَلَّفَ الصَّوْمَ لِلْعَادَةِ – الشوكاني في نيل الأوطار 4/345

When (a child) reaches the age of twelve I think that he should be made to fast so that the child gets used to it. (Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar, Vol. 4, p. 345)
Further, Awza'i view that it becomes obligatory when the child is able to fast three days consecutively. He stated:

إذَا أَطَاقَ صَوْمِ ثَلَاثَةِ أَيَّامٍ تُبَاعَا، لَا يَخُورُ فِيهِنَّ وَلَا يَضْعُفُ، حُمِّلَ صَوْمِ شَهْرِ رَمَضَان – ابن قدامة في المغني 3/161

When the child could keep the fasts of three consecutive days and his/her strength without becoming weak, then should be made fast the remaining days of Ramadan. (Ibid, Vol. 4, p. 345)

Analysis

Based on the juristic discussion, fasting of Ramadan is not obligatory upon the minor who had not reached the age of puberty yet. Jurists agreed it is obligatory upon the parents to enjoin fasting of Ramdan on their children when the child is able to do so. This is to train the children on fasting in order to make it easier for them after they reach puberty.

Some scholars, in addition, determined a certain age at which parents should make their children start fasting as mentioned above. However, the Prophet (saw) did not determine a certain age for making children fasting as he did with prayer (He said: "Teach your children to pray when they are seven years old, and smack them (lightly) if they do not pray when they are 10 years old..." / Abu Dawud 2:105). This is because children vary in their physical abilities. Parents should , however, make their children fast only when they think their children are able to do so without hardship. This is what the companions of the Prophet (saw) did with their children; they would tell those who were able to fast to do so, as in the above-mentioned hadith. But it is not permissible to force children to fast if it will harm them in cases of physical weakness or sickness.

Conclusion

Fasting is not obligatory upon a minor who has not reached puberty. Scholars agree parents should make their children fast so as to get them used to it. This is to train the children on fasting in order to make it easier for them after they reach puberty. But they differ in determining the age at which the child should start doing so.

References

Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhla
Ibn Muflih, Al-Furu
Ibn Rushd, Bidayat al-Mujtahid
Ibn Qudamah, Al-Mughni
Nawawi, Al-Majmu
Maradawi, Al-Insaf
Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar
Qarafi, Al-Zakhirah
Zayla'i, Tabieen al-Haqa'iq

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